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Apple hires point to homebrew GPU goal

Apple hires point to homebrew GPU goal

Apple is heavily hiring GPU engineers, many formerly of fiscally troubled AMD, with evidence suggesting it is looking to develop its own GPU IP for its A-series mobile chips.

Apple is looking to bring its semiconductor development in-house, hiring at least a dozen graphics engineers away from AMD to work at a new graphics processing unit (GPU) team at its Orlando and Cupertino.

AMD's money troubles have led to numerous layoffs of late as it looks to tighten its belt and ride out the rough times ahead of a hopefully company-saving revenue stream from new server and mobile parts as well as its deals with Microsoft and Sony to provide accelerated processing unit (APU) technology for their next-generation consoles. Recently, it was forced to let go of a number of hardware engineers in Orlando, Florida - and it's these engineers that Apple has targeted.

According to MacRumours, which has been keeping tabs on former AMD staffers' LinkedIn profiles to see where they would go next, Apple has hired at least a dozen engineers since the layoffs - many of which are being made part of a new team located in Orlando, dedicated to developing GPU technologies for use in Apple's future products.

If you're wondering how anybody could possibly know the latter, given Apple's traditional secrecy surrounding anything it has yet to announce, the answer's simple: the company is also looking for site managers at its Orlando Design Centre 'responsible for leading the Orlando GPU team to deliver high quality IP [Intellectual Property] to specification and on schedule.'

Thus far, Apple hasn't commented on what its GPU teams are working on, but it seems likely that it will relate to its A-series system-on-chip (SoC) processors that power its iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. Currently, the company designs the chips itself using CPU IP licensed from ARM and GPU IP licensed from Imagination Technology. The recent spate of hires, however, suggests a renewed focus in creating its own IP, apparently starting with a move away from Imagination's PowerVR into its own technologies.

Any such development would take time, however. Apple has not traditionally positioned itself as a semiconductor company, and has previously bought its processors as off-the-shelf parts from the like of MOS Technologies, Motorola, IBM and Intel. The launch of the iPhone in 2007 was no exception, using an ARM-based processor purchased from Samsung, but 2010's iPhone 4 used an Apple-branded A4 SoC designed by Intrinsity, a fabless semiconductor firm acquired by Apple mere months before the phone's launch. While Samsung still did the manufacturing, the iPhone 4 saw an end to Apple's use of off-the-shelf parts in its smartphone and tablet products with the company instead using its new Intrinsity subsidiary to design its own ARM-based low-power SoCs.

Since then, all Apple mobile products have been powered by A-series SoCs designed by Apple's Intrinsity subsidiary - but always based on others' CPU and GPU IP. It's hard to imagine what Apple could want with so many GPU engineers unless it was hoping to develop IP of its own - leading to a potential future where Apple's mobile parts use wholly Apple-designed CPU and GPU IP. Such heavy vertical integration would be new for the company, but a major boon to its profits - and, if it can do a good enough job of producing low-power yet high-performance designs, either give it a unique selling point over its rivals or offer it a new revenue stream by licensing the IP out to third-party manufacturers.

Apple has not yet commented on the hires nor on its job listings, but things are clearly shifting at the company. Whether this new direction will bear fruit remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the company certainly has cash to spare on research and development, with the company's most recent financial filings detailing $145 billion in the company's coffers.

1 Comment

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rollo 1st June 2013, 11:57 Quote
Not a big surprise when you have the cash they have they can develop a soc to there exact needs.
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